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TFS training is mismanaged, auditor-general says

Nov. 7, 2013, Toronto – Training for Toronto’s 2,700 operations firefighters needs to be revamped, better managed and properly documented, the city’s auditor general says in a report.

November 7, 2013
By Laura King

Nov. 7, 2013, Toronto – Training for Toronto’s 2,700 operations firefighters needs to be revamped, better managed and properly documented, the city’s auditor general says in a report.

Auditor-General Jeff Griffiths’ lengthy analysis of Toronto Fire Services training and recruitment was submitted to the city’s audit committee on Sept. 16 and approved on Oct. 31.

Griffiths has made 32 recommendations to increase efficiency and improve training, although Fire Chief Jim Sales noted Thursday that the recommendations are very specific and some could have been grouped together. (The recommendations can be found online here.)

Sales said in an interview he recognized there were challenges in training and recruitment, and when approached by the audit committee, asked that it examine those areas. However, he says, some areas of the report lack context because of poor record keeping by Toronto Fire Services (TFS).

For example, the report is critical of TFS for failing to use full blocks of training time during 24-hour shifts, which Griffiths says wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars.

“We estimate that the potential amount of lost productivity due to shortened training hours was approximately 4,700 hours, at a cost of approximately $170,000 per year,” the report says.

Sales says, however, that the training reports do not list travel time, preparation time or clean up time. In some cases, Sales said, firefighters travelled to Guelph for specialized training but the travel time wasn’t included.

“It’s how we record things,” Sales said. “In some cases, we have to do a better job articulating the training from start to finish and what’s involved. In training you have to get your equipment ready, and put it away, and there’s travel time involved.

“I’m not alarmed by the results,” he said. “I’m alarmed by the fact we didn’t display or depict it properly.”

TFS management has agreed to implement the recommendations and outlines in the report’s appendix an action plan and time frame for each one. In some cases, changes at the provincial level – for example, the transition to NFPA standards from Ontario standards – will address the problems.

“Overall it’s a fair audit,” Sales says, “that in my opinion says, look we’ve got to put some emphasis in an area that has been under-resourced, under-supported in terms of hardware and software, formalized training and officer development, and these are ways to upgrade and improve things. It’s a holistic approach to looking at training and staff development.

“That’s what’s going to happen, so I will be working with staff to build a better future in that area.”

Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association president Ed Kennedy is on holidays and couldn’t be reached; vice-president Damien Walsh said Thursday that the association executive has not yet discussed the report and did not want to comment yet.

The report says that administration is big concern: training has often been cancelled because instructors were not available; recruits are sometimes placed in the wrong training programs – resulting in costs of about $70,000 in 2011 and $182,000 in 2012; and in many instances, trainers were not properly certified by the Ontario Fire College.

“Our review found that 10 of the 13 trainer-facilitators delivering training in 2012 were not certified by OFC,” the report says. “In addition, we were not able to confirm whether the certified trainer-facilitators were actively involved in the program. The last confirmation letter to the OFC was provided in 2008.”

Further, the report says, auditors could not find training completion records to ensure that on-duty shift training instructors were properly qualified.

“While our review confirmed that the Occupational Health and Safety Competent Supervisor and Instructional Strategies courses were completed, we were not able to confirm whether mandatory specialty training was completed,” the report says. “Training completion records were not found in the electronic learning management system and paper records could not be located.”

The report says some TFS lesson plans have not been updated since 2008, and notes inconsistencies in training records.

“Our review of the 2012 syllabus and corresponding lesson plans found that these documents were incomplete, inaccurate and outdated.”

For example, the report says, lesson plans were missing in some cases, training hours documented in the syllabus compared to the lesson plans were not consistent, and some training topics were grouped together in the syllabus – making it difficult to compare time requirements identified in lesson plans.

In addition, just 54 per cent of TFS firefighters completed assigned online training by the due dates, and, the report says, the annual SCBA certification process is lax.

“Although online theory and in-station training was substantially completed in each year reviewed, the training was not completed on a timely basis,” the report says. “Records showed that 65 per cent and 48 per cent of firefighters had yet to complete the training as of March 1, 2011 and 2012, respectively, as required by standard operating guidelines.

Further, the report says, some TFS standard operating guidelines on training are outdated, inaccurate or inconsistent with training procedures.

“Some staff advised that they were not consulted when revisions were made to training-related guidelines,” the report says.

Key to improving training, the report says, is the development of a multi-year fire master plan – the last master plan expired in 2011 – and a multi-year strategic plan for training.

Management says in the appendix that the new master fire plan is in the works.

Management says it is reviewing all training materials and developing a new delivery concept to address the shortage of instructors, but notes that a time frame for implementation depends on the collective bargaining process and potential arbitration.

TFS will also establish a professional development and training working group to analyze and identify issues regarding lesson plans, implement corrective action by the first quarter of 2014, and maintain the group to ensure that lesson plans are continuously updated. TFS notes in its responses that several of the recommendations will be addressed by the establishment of this working group.

The SCBA certification issue came to light in 2012, TFS says; a new certification procedure has been implemented and the SOG has been revised.